Performance Network Theatre offers 'Woman Before a Glass'
Edwards admitted that there was definitely a period of adjustment, and that during the first rehearsals, “I remember waiting to go on, and I was waiting for someone else’s line, literally. I was waiting for a cue or something. That’s when I got really scared.”
Yet the subject of “Woman,” Peggy Guggenheim, probably also inspired trepidation. (Edwards confessed, “She makes me blush.”) The foul-mouthed, convention-flaunting heiress accumulated a vast collection of modern art and enjoyed dalliances with some of the 20th century’s most celebrated artists. At the time of “Woman”’s scenes, though, Guggenheim is in her 60s, struggling to figure out what will become of her art collection when she’s gone.
“She was a diva, she was a personality, but I think she was empty in lots of ways as a person,” said director Malcolm Tulip. “And most of what I see, from the play and other information, is she’s finding a way to fill that up, to become someone of value. And ultimately, sadly, it’s through her collection.” Tulip described Guggenheim as “adamantly pro-sex but anti-relationships,” explaining that the only relationships she discusses in positive terms in the play involve her father, who drowned on the Titanic when Peggy was 13, and a lover, John Holmes, who’d died in the trenches. “They’re both romantic ideas, but (Guggenheim) never really had to follow through on them,” said Tulip. “Also, she doesn’t have a family framework. Racially, she’s not really happy with being a Jew. And her standards of beauty all seem to be Aryan.”
In addition, Guggenheim had terrible relationships with her son and her daughter (who committed suicide), and she referred to the works in her vast art collection as “her children.”
But Guggenheim’s ambitions, failings, and self-loathing were part of what made the play so compelling for PNT artistic director David Wolber. “This millionairess with this incredible art collection was a broken human being,” said Wolber. “It’s the same reason people go to Graceland, and it’s the reason people followed Michael Jackson’s crazy life.”
“That’s the thing that people can relate to,” added Tulip. “What do I have to sacrifice, and what am I willing to sacrifice, to be the person I think I want to be?”
Ultimately, though, part of the appeal of a show like “Woman” is the allure of hearing insider gossip about world-famous figures.
“It’s interesting, seeing a character who has moved with the earth-movers of the 20th century art world,” said Tulip. “She’s not dismissive of them, but in no way is she in awe of them as people. Their artworks, yes, but as people? Not at all. She talks of them almost with the same affection she would her Lhasa Apsos.”
And in regard to the significance of the play’s title, Tulip said, “I think it’s to do with (Guggenheim) being her collection. They’re inseparable. And so I think she sees her life reflected in these objects, and the stories of their acquisition, and the vibrations of the people who painted them. The art is her mirror. And also, this is at this time in her life, when not only is she considering, ‘What do I do with my collection,’ but she’s also having to confront who she is.”